As the son of a champion fencer from Hungary, Dan Alon was “born with a sword in my hand,” in Tel Aviv in 1945. When he was a young child, Alon told NJJN, his father tutored him “from morning until night,” and the training paid off. At the age of 12, he won his first children’s competition, and four years later he became Israel’s junior champion fencer.
In 1972 Alon qualified for Israel’s Olympic fencing team, and when he arrived in Munich before the summer games began, he made a fateful move that saved his life. When the Israeli athletes were choosing from among three apartments for their stay during the games, the one Alon picked was the one that members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September bypassed when they stormed the building on Sept. 5. In the other two apartments, the terrorists killed two Israeli delegation members, then took nine athletes, coaches, and officials hostage and tortured them brutally before murdering them.
For 34 years, Alon could not bear to speak about the attack. Then, after being persuaded by a rabbi, he agreed to tell his story. Since then he has done so “many, many times” and released Munich Memoir: Dan Alon’s Untold Story of Survival in 2012.
He will describe the brutal events once again the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 19, in Marlboro as part of a tour that begins in London and includes stops in Brooklyn, Westchester, and Phoenix.
Alon spoke with NJ Jewish News by phone from his home in Tel Aviv.
NJJN: How do you explain choosing to stay in the apartment that was not attacked by the terrorists?
Alon: It is very, very hard to explain. I was standing in front of the building with my luggage and I went into apartment No. 2 without any thinking. No explanation.
NJJN: While the attack was going on, what were you thinking?
Alon: I was scared. I was thinking, “How am I going to get out of here?” I could only think of how to be safe.
NJJN: How did you manage to escape?
Alon: We thought of all kinds of alternatives, but in the end we decided to go through the back door to the garden even though it was guarded by a terrorist on the balcony. We decided to run out, and whatever will be will be. It was the only way to run away. He didn’t shoot at us. I was looking at him, and he watched me. We were very close, one to another, but he didn’t shoot because he saw me running to the police.
NJJN: Why do you think the terrorists didn’t attack the people in your apartment?
Alon: Oh, my God. Nobody can tell us why they didn’t come to our rooms, despite it was written on the door all of our Hebrew names. It’s really very mysterious. There is one terrorist who is still alive. In Africa he is hiding. He had an interview with somebody who asked why he didn’t go to apartment No. 2. He said, “We wanted to go later.” We were lucky that we ran away.
NJJN: Why did it take 34 years for you to talk about what happened?
Alon: I was very affected physically. I took medicine a long time to calm myself, and I still suffer a lot of paranoia and I feel unsafe, mostly when I’m coming to the United States or Europe. It is always in my mind. In Israel it is the only place in the world where I feel safe. I’m home.
NJJN: What was it like the first time you spoke about your experience?
Alon: It was at Oxford University. It was very difficult. My words were stuck in my throat. It still happens to me. I have to stop sometimes.
NJJN: What was your reaction to Munich, the 2005 film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg?
Alon: It was very good. It was not what happened in Munich but what happened after Munich. It was about revenge.
NJJN: Many people argued that the 1972 Olympics should have been cancelled after the attack. How do you feel about that?
Alon: That was the first reaction of everybody, but if you think more carefully, in my opinion it was they had to continue the Olympics. Many athletes came from all over the world and they practiced for four years to win medals. If they had to go home without being able to compete you’d think maybe there will be solidarity with us, but later they will blame Israel. In the Olympic Village before what happened we had a lot of contact with Arab athletes from Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon and Syria. We had a good time together. We all were united together.
NJJN: What is your message for people in other countries?
Alon: I think this is a piece of history. It’s like when I was a child I was educated about the Holocaust not to forget. My story has to be also like that: not to forget and to prevent another thing like this. I am coming for the youngsters. I don’t care if the older people listen, but the youngsters never heard about this at all. That is why it is very important.